What’s next for the Safe Outdoor Spaces proposal?
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The Albuquerque City Council meeting went well into the night Wednesday after a debate on Safe Outdoor Spaces for the homeless population.
This comes after a judge filed an injunction that the city is not allowed to clear homeless encampments without proper notice.
Safe Outdoor Spaces has been a familiar discussion for the city council. Basically, they are designated areas where homeless people can openly camp — with supervision and rules.
A proposed amendment would have made it easier to set up these spaces, and fast track applications for three of them. Ultimately, councilors voted it down.
Now, it’s back to the drawing board for city councilors to address homelessness.
“This is a way that I see us being able to move quickly, set up some alternatives that give some compliance with what the judge was requesting in that injunction, and that can be done rather quickly,” said City Councilor Tammy Fiebelkorn.
In addition to limited appeals, Fiebelkorn suggested fast tracking applications for three of them in order to comply with the judge’s order.
“In light of earlier conversations and the democratic process, I do not accept the fact that we should take away the public’s right to appeal something,” said City Councilor Brook Bassan.
But the proposal got some push back.
“We’ve gone over this discussion over and over again throughout the year and this is a nonstarter for me,” said City Councilor Louie Sanchez.
“People that experience homelessness are here now, they are in our community, and they aren’t going anywhere. So this amendment specifically says we are not taking away the notification process, but we are streamlining the appeals process, so we can actually get some of these set up,” said Fiebelkorn.
That amendment failed on a 4-5 vote.
Sanchez says the city already has a plan in place, and the Safe Outdoor Spaces aren’t needed.
“They have a plan, the plan was to make sure we have enough beds. The judge said we didn’t have enough beds, I heard today we are going to have enough beds. Then we can make movement on the encampments,” said Sanchez.
With this proposal failing at city council that’s one less option on the table.
KOB 4 spoke to Mayor Tim Keller Thursday about the city’s plan moving forward. He is adamant that the Gateway Center is the best way to address homelessness.
While other city councilors agree, they say it isn’t the quick solution they were hoping for.
“We weren’t really surprised about the outcome, so we will move on and look to other solutions, but we always support every tool we can have to deal with our unhoused challenges that we have in our community,” said Keller.
Keller says city councilors have changed their position on the topic several times already and the back and forth debate Wednesday proved that.
Now, it’s time to find other solutions as the city waits for the state Supreme Court to appeal the injunction against them.
“In the short term we do have a storage program set up that we are going to be able to do, and so that will help meet those requirements. We also are looking at opening up more emergency beds whether it’s at our West Side Shelter or whether it’s at different locations throughout the city as it gets colder,” Keller said.
Keller says when it comes to addressing homelessness – the solution is clear.
“The answer is the Gateway, this is why I’ve been pushing the Gateway which the voters approved of several years ago. The sooner we can get that fully-funded and fully up and running the better. That’s why we need the community and council support,” said Keller.
Some on city council think it’s a great long term solution, but more should be done to comply with the injunction from the judge.
“Expanding Gateway, improving the West Side Emergency Housing Center and possibly additional overnight shelters. All of those options take a great deal of time, and we don’t have a lot of time, that injunction started on Nov. 1,” said Fiebelkorn.
“The Gateway up and running is the only way with or without this lawsuit that we are going to make a dent in homelessness,” Keller said.
Workers from the shelter were also at the city council meeting Thursday night. They told councilors they have bed trackers, and they haven’t run out of beds yet. But it is cold, and they want to make sure the city can keep up with the demand.